Tuesday’s news of Auburn naming Arkansas State head coach (and former Tigers’ offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn its next head football coach brought plenty of mixed reaction from Tiger fans. Malzahn is a coach that has had success at every stop and in every job since his days as the head coach at Springdale High School in Arkansas. But questions persist.
New Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has a lot to try to sell recruits.
In the Southeastern Conference, the first question and maybe the most important question is ‘can he recruit?’ The only thing more intense than the competition on the field in the SEC is the competition on the recruiting trail. Malzahn got a taste of that as an offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik at Auburn and under Houston Nutt at Arkansas. Now in the shadow of Nick Saban’s successful program at Alabama, can he go head-to-head with the biggest recruiting heavyweight in the country and win?
With that, here are five reasons why Malzahn is the man for the recruiting job on The Plains.
1-The Malzahn brand - Malzahn is the face of an explosive, fast-paced, exciting offense. In a league that has its share of body-punchers offensively, Malzahn can immediately pitch a unique brand of football that can differentiate the program.
Just like elite basketball prospects like up-tempo, dunking and pressing, many football recruits like the football equivalent. Malzahn can bring that and it comes in the form of a system that is uniquely his.
At Arkansas State, Malzahn pitched the program as the Boise State of the south for recruits. At Auburn, Malzahn doesn’t need to posture as anything other than Auburn to get recruits on campus but from the standpoint of playing style, recruits are going to respond positively at a chance to play at the Oregon of the south.
2-“So what have you done without Cam Newton?” - Malzahn has been incredibly successful without Cam Newton under center even to the extent of turning previously unheralded quarterback Chris Todd into a record breaker at Auburn. That may not be enough for some skeptics but it is enough for high school prospects.
Listen to the common sentiment that emerges out of high school living rooms in the wake of Malzahn visits. It won’t be “Cam Newton made Malzahn” it will be “he can make me Cam Newton”. That’s the optimism of an elite high school recruit.
Even outside of the quarterback position, Newton is a player that maintains steady popularity among young prospects and Malzahn will be forever linked to him and his spectacular season at Auburn.
3-SEC experience – Projecting, posturing, hypothesizing is all well and good but with Malzahn we actually have a body of work to examine and it is a strong one. While at Auburn, Malzahn was directly active in the recruitments of Cam Newton, maybe Auburn’s most important recruit of all time. He also had a strong hand in landing wide receiver Emory Blake out of Texas. He also established a strong presence in his home state of Arkansas.
Argue if you want about the varying degree of success that Michael Dyer and Kiehl Frazier have had on the college level but they remain two of the most highly-recruited prospects that the state of Arkansas has ever seen. Malzahn was an integral part of each prospect’s decision to leave the state.
4-Head coaching experience – At Arkansas State, Malzahn has the Red Wolves currently ranked No. 68 in the country in the 247Sports national team football recruiting rankings for the Class of 2013. That ranking may seem modest but it is good for the best class in the rapidly improving Sun Belt and it was built in part due to the job that the Arkansas State staff has done mining Alabama.
One of Alabama’s most talent-rich high school programs in recent years has been Montgomery Carver. It’s the type of program that Auburn needs to control in recruiting. Of late, if an elite prospect out of Carver hasn’t committed to Auburn, he has committed to Gus Malzahn at Arkasnas State. Shaun Rupert out of the 2013 class and Draequon Murphy, a 247Sports four-star out of the class of 2014, have both pledged to Arkansas State. Meanwhile 3-star Carver safety Chequan Burkett has also remained a Red Wolf lean.
Look for Malzahn’s hiring to cement Carver quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s commitment and continue to give the Tigers the clear inside track for 2014 four-star Shaun Dion Hamilton.
5- He’s not Nick Saban – At Auburn, beating Alabama is paramount. Right now, beating Alabama means beating Saban and that task has never been tougher. Malzahn is not Saban. His background is as a high school coach not an NFL coordinator. He’s an offensive whiz not a defensive guru. He’s a lot of what Saban isn’t but that alternative can be a great tool for Malzahn to keep Auburn recruiting at a high level.